They're blimmin' well car mad, those Gremlin blokes. As if Supercars and Lotus weren't enough, they've just come up with a third vroom-vroom game called Toyota Celica GT Rally! What a bunch of complete boy racers, eh? (And yes, I know Switchblade didn't even have the slightest whiff of an exhaust fume in it, so just shut up, will you?)
The Toyota Celica GT4, for those who don't know, is a four-wheel drive rally car, capable of doing about 150mph round somebody's lawn. It even won the Lombard RAC Rally and the British Open Rally recently (for the second year running, no less). So we can safely assume that it's the bee's knees. How else could Gremlin resist the idea of standing by a freezing car track in Wales at 3.30am, getting all muddy and wet, just to see one of these cars zip past in .25 of a second. They couldn't, is the answer. So off they trotted, with their wellies on, to do just that. Then they came back, turned the heating up full and wrote the game. And I don't mind telling you that the result is very impressive.
Rally is in the Lotus Esprit Turbo mould. That, as you very probably know, was a Megagame (but only just). Spookily, however, Celica GT Rally was actually written before Lotus. About two-and-a-half years before. Yep, amazing as it sounds, Rally was knocking around for 3 years being speeded up and refined before Gremlin decided it was good enough to release. They also waited to find a rally car good enough to use as a tie-in.
The game system is actually fairly similar for both, except that the Lotus remains all nice and shiny, whilst the Celica gets well and truly filthy (because it spends most of its time sliding into puddles). The road looks the same for both games, but there are big rocks and trees along the side for the Celica to crash into. (It's certainly a nice change for a game to feature a macho, dirty, smashed-up Japanese vehicle for once rather than a girly Italian racer!)
OKAY THEN, WHAT HAVE WE GOT?
Well, a big, powerful car and 30 bouncy roads to drive it on basically. Everything is seen from the driving seat, so you can watch your own hands spookily turning the wheel as you move the joystick. You have 3 countries to race in (England, Mexico and Finland), with 10 stages per country. You can practice in any of the countries, or can go straight into the stressful and exciting World Championship. Whey-hey! Let's do that then!
At first you'll probably choose the automatic car so you don't need to faff around with stupid gears and stuff. Then wait at the start line until the 'Go' signal flashes up. Put your clog to the floor and all 4 wheels'll spin as you belt towards the first corner. Becasue you're now a cool rally driver you shouldn't bother slowing down too much - just turn the car sideways and go round like that. Yahoo! Then straighten up (if you can) and head for the next corner. Easy-peasy (I don't think). Trying to keep your car heading (if not pointing) in the right direction is a mammoth task, actually, as well as a great deal of fun.
If you do come off the road it isn't necessarily a mega-disaster. Depending on how skilful (and, er, lucky) you are, you may still be able to slide the car back on course without losing too much speed (or your life). You have very little grip on the muddy (or sandy or whatever) verges, and if you happen to hit a (nicely drawn) tree, cactus or rock your windscreen will break and then you'll have to wait for ages for it to be fixed before you can drive off. Oh. and you also get a 20 second penalty. Boo hoo!
Each stage is timed, so you don't see any other cars when you're racing. You're really up against the clock, so you'll be stuffed if you crash more than twice (ie get 40 seconds of penalty time). Rather cleverly (at least I think it's clever), Gremlin have set up your Japanese jalopy so that the ideal speed for the course is quite a bit less than full throttle. This means that you should be oh-so-careful going round the corners because you're almost always zipping along far too quickly when you reach them.
But you're not alone in all this! Ho no, missus. To help you blast your way to a record time, you've got a sort of spooky invisible co-driver who indicates when corners are corning up with arrow signs by the side of the road. What you're able to do before every stage is scroll through a top view of the circuit putting the arrows wherever you want. Then, when you're chugging along, they'll turn up at the points you put them at. Doing this also helps you learn the course so you get an idea of what to expect. It's a nice touch in the game.
Your race times for each stage are added up, and you must beat a certain number of the computer bods in order to qualify for the race in the next country. Up to 4 humans can play, so if you're alone (and desperate, like me) you can have 4 exciting attempts to qualify. Hurrah!
EXCITING, YOU SAY?
Yes, very exciting actually! Rally is incredibly fast and smooth. The car handles realistically and as I've put several real cars into ditches I should know! Pretty stonking graphics and good sound (although the engine noise sometimes cut out on ours, but that might just have been my slightly unorthodox driving techniques) certainly complete my happiness.
Yep, it seems like the Grems have got the secret of fast and spanky road graphics well and truly sussed. The road view is the only thing which'll really remind you of Lotus when you're playing the game. That and all the menus, which are very similar as well (why change a winning formula?). Oh, and the undulating road which means you can bounce over hillocks and can't see in front of you. Ahem. So, er, it is a bit the same but it's by and large it's not. If you see what I mean.
Which only leaves me to make up my mind about the score. Is it...? Could it possible be...? Yep, I reckon it is. I'm getting a bit jittery about all these Megagames Gremlin seem to be getting all the time, but, heck, if they deserve it then why not? Hurrah! Now load it up and give me another go.
Very smart little racing game - handsome to look at, fun to drive and fast, fast, fast!
Oww. I've got a small piece of glass in my eye. This is Mexico, by the way.
Oops. I think I've just lost control round this bend!
Hooray! We're going flat out! (Those 2 dials are revs at the left and speed at the right.)
Brr. It's Finland, and I'm a tad frosty. I hope the Celica has got a heater.
It doesn't matter now. We've all perished in the crash. (The flames might keep us warm, though.)